In case you’ve been canoodling with your supermodel and not reading this blog, you may not know that the Large Hadron Collider(LHC) is due to go online.(1) Or is it? No one can really be certain. After 14 years and billions of dollars, it’s had a number of delays but they have intended to make up for lost time by just eliminating minor steps, like a low energy run.(2)
â€œWeâ€™ll be starting up for physics in May 2008, as always foreseen, and will commission the machine to full energy in one go,â€ said LHC Project Leader Lyn Evans.
But before you get concerned, let’s keep in mind that science is often done without being absolutely certain about every little detail. As train engines were being developed, they tested them using dogs because they were not certain how humans would respond to high speeds, 30 plus miles per hour. In hindsight that seems quaint but it was scientifically prudent. You can think of the LHC experiments like the early days of trains, except if something goes wrong you, your loved ones and the entire galaxy could be sucked into some alternate universe and be ruled by our new Strangelet Overlords.
European scientists don’t worry about that because they did numerical studies and stuff so they want to just get it cold and smack together protons with gazillions of electron volts. Not so fast, say Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho(3). They filed suit in federal court in Hawaii to halt use of the LHC until environmental ‘assessments’ can be done.
What? I live in California and I can’t even put in a pool without an environmental impact report, permits and weeks of paperwork and Europeans can just build a particle accelerater and duplicate the energy from fractions of a second after the Big Bang? I want to move there. It’s a Libertarian wonderland.
Okay, it isn’t. They actually have done studies and concede, because they are scientists and understand how big ‘infinity’ really is, that it is statistically possible for things to go wrong in a quantum universe, just darn unlikely. If you aren’t aware, the LHC is basically a time machine. Not the kind of time machine that will allow you to visit Raquel Welch on the set of One Million Years BC,but rather the kind of time machine that will allow us to examine the conditions right after the Big Bang.
It’s cosmic ray stuff, the kind of thing that happens every day, except, like I said, this will be protons with gazillions of electron volts smacking into each other in a confined space. Thus the huge black hole devouring the planet or opening a portal to another universe and letting alien invaders in that Wagner and Sancho are worried about.
Wagner has filed this kind of suit before, against Brookhaven National Lab. He is, not surprisingly, a Berkeley graduate. Filing these suits before and being wrong is not an indication that he’s wrong this time. Heck, we even let Ralph Nader run for president and he only has about a .01% rate of actually being right.
Are they right? Should you be worried? Well, it’s a lot of strange energy and effects to sift through, and understanding the beginning of the universe is why the thing was built. In an infinite universe almost anything can happen, like black holes in small spaces, the Cubs winning a World Series this year or the nations of Europe that back CERN actually showing up in a district court in Hawaii to defend against this lawsuit.
In other words, I wouldn’t worry too much.
(3) COMPLAINT FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION, AND PERMANENT INJUNCTION – LUIS SANCHO, WALTER L. WAGNER, Plaintiffs vs. US DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY, FERMILAB, CENTER FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY RESEARCH (CERN), NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION, DOE ENTITIES 1-100, defendants